I confidently predicted that Swindon Town would finish in the bottom half of League Two, prompting several tweets from irate Robins unhappy at my choice.
One of those fans, Ben Nicholls aka @pieman80, eventually ended up becoming a follower and gave me some fascinating insight into our opponents this weekend.
We started off by talking about their aims for season, coming off the back of a strong start to the season, a 3-2 win against Macclesfield, achieved after being 2-1 down in injury time.
Top seven needs to be the target for us at the very least. We are a big club for this level and the quality that we have in our side along with the coaching staff means anything else would be deemed as failure.
I based much of my prediction on the presence of Phil Brown, a manager I feel isn’t equipped to get the best out of players at this level, nor to approach a League Two campaign. I was interested to see if Ben felt differently.
He’s done OK. He took over a team who were starting to slide last season. In the short time he had made us harder to beat only losing 3 of his 10 games in charge. Unfortunately he found goals harder to come by and we ended up drawing a lot and any ambition of the play offs faded and died. However, the majority of the performances shown was an improvement to what we had seen under Flitcroft which earned him a contract extension and backing from the fans to have a go at the start of the season with his own side.
Brown took over from a manager who we know all-too well, a former Imp (albeit on loan) and the current manager of rivals Mansfield Town. Despite him taking them to a play-off spot before leaving last season, he hasn’t been perceived as a popular figure at the County Ground.
Flitcroft is a dirty word at Swindon. When he joined town at the start of last season we were fresh in League Two after suffering relegation. The club had gone through route of a coach manager running the club Lee Power (chairman) and Tim Sherwood, Director of Football, overseeing transfers, style of player and tactics. With relegation Lee Power went with the more conventional route as manager. Sherwood left the club as did Luke Williams and Power took a step back from first team matters. The new manager would have complete control style, transfers the lot.
Flitcroft is a dirty word at Swindon
The new man was David Flitcroft and he was given one of the best budgets in the league to ensure an immediate bounce back up. He changed the total football approach to a direct style of play. He changed a youthful side (oldest player was 27) to a team whose average age was 28. Any creativity was replaced with workman like journeymen and the style was dull. By Christmas we had the second worst home record in the league, only Barnet had less points than us. The home fans had never warmed to him and his only saving graces was a surprisingly good away form but towards the end even that had tailed off.
Flitcroft’s last game was a 2-1 away defeat to lowly Chesterfield who had previously lost 7 in 8. The fans had enough and had turned. At that time we had lost more games than Morecambe. So, it was a surprise when Mansfield came in, we even got compensation. He then took Mansfield, who were in the midst of an automatic promotion fight, and dropped them out the play offs all together. That sums up Dave Flitcroft! When he joined he boasted about being one of the best coaches at bring on young talent in the FL. During his time at Swindon he didn’t give a single minute to any of the youth, whereas Phil Brown blooded 3 in his 10 games in charge. Interesting he’s just boasted the same at Mansfield.
Phew, ever wish you hadn’t asked? Clearly Flitcroft is even more popular down there than he is with Imps fans who don’t like his rather belligerent and abrasive manner. Now I can see why Phil Brown has been welcomed with optimism! Moving on, Ben tells me about the Swindon formation and what we can expect in terms of dangermen this weekend.
We played 4-3-3 a lot pre season and opening day. Very easy to see our strength is midfield. Most of the journeymen have now gone and fully fit our best three are Michael Doughty, who had two previous loans spells at the club and was a very firm favourite with the fans. With a handful of Premier League and Championship appearances he was very highly regarded at QPR but found it hard to nail down a regular place.
The 25-year-old free-scoring midfielder has had many successful spells in League One with a number of clubs and it is seen as a bit of a coup to nail back him on a permanent deal, have beaten off League One clubs to his signature.
Toumus Diagouraga played most of his career in the Championship. He’s only just turned 31 played was credited by Plymouth as a playing a pivotal part turning their season around last season from a relegation candidate to play off hopeful. In 2015 he won fan’s Player of the Season in Brentford’s championship play off season.
However, my main danger man is the third part of our three-man midfield and that is Steven Alzate. He made his first debut in League Two at Orient the age of 17 and ripped it up, enhancing his reputation in no time. In a few months of making his Orient debut was snapped up by Brighton. Now 19 (but built like a man in mid 20’s) he is strong, skilful and quick tipped by many to make it big. Showed moments of skills way beyond league one or two (no pressure now lad 😉 )
In terms of approach, Phil Brown doesn’t really have a style more just plays the opponents. Against Macclesfield we kept the ball down and was very attacking. Against Lincoln we are going to have to earn the right to play so the game will be more of a battle. Maybe look at our pace to counter.
Lincoln are widely thought of as a nasty, long ball team with spoiling tactics in mind, something we would vehemently deny. I was interested as to whether Ben felt the same way about us?
I think Lincoln are a very well run club, stand and excellent chance of going up automatically this time round. Fantastic fan base, and turn up in numbers are a club on the up and now they managed to keep hold of the Cowleys there’s no reason why they should not mount a promotion challenge. Tipped my many to go up and I have to agree.
Finally, I asked who Ben’s all-time Swindon hero was. Oddly, I have a favourite former Swindon players, one I apparently share with a lifelong fan of the club.
Tough one either Glenn Hoddle or Jan Aage Fjortoft (me too, loved him in the early 90s). Watched both in my younger days Jan was a goal machine who score from anywhere and at the time probably from the 2nd half of season 93/94 was one of the best strikers in the Premier League and Hoddle was just a magician, we’d not have got anywhere near the Premier League without him.